written by Sue McGarvie, M.A., sexwithsue.com
Every year researchers come up with new studies that outline the best way to stay connected with your significant other. Much of the advice seems like common sense. But even as a Sex and Relationship Therapist, I have to remember to be mindful and find time to really focus on my partner with these ideas.
1. Stay positive
“It’s not surprising that the more positive a person is, the more likely they’ll be happy in their relationships. What’s interesting is just how much it matters.
In a study from the University of Chicago, researchers found that when a husband has a high level of positivity, there’s less conflict in his relationship. Likewise, the way partners respond to each other’s good news matters too. In a study published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found that the way couples react to each other’s good news—either with excitement, pride, or indifference—is crucial in forming a strong bond.”
2. Have a life outside of your partner
Not only is it important to have something interesting to talk about at the end of the day, outside friendships can help reinforce the couple connection. This doesn’t mean losing emotional intimacy with your husband or wife. It just means that married couples have a lot to gain by fostering their relationships with family members and friends. The happiest couples, she says, are those who have interests and support “beyond the twosome.”
3. Have fun together and do new things
It’s really easy to get in a rut. Doing things that are out of your comfort zone together creates hard-to-break bonds. This also means just having fun together. Research from The University of Denver shows that couples who make time for fun activities tend to stay together longer:
“The more you invest in fun and friendship and being there for your partner, the happier the relationship will get over time,” says Howard Markman, a psychologist who co-directs the university’s Center for Marital and Family Studies.
“The correlation between fun and marital happiness is high, and significant.”
4. Make time for great sex
Yes, I think sex is critical for relationships. Life can get in the way of being sexy. And as partners feel pushed away they are less likely to initiate. And sex starts to feel awkward. Being able to communicate about what your sexual needs are and asking for what you need sexually is something I often facilitate between spouses in my office.
Anthony Lyons, a study co-author and research fellow at La Trobe, said the main lesson from the study is that couples need to learn how to communicate about their sexual needs or their reasons for not wanting sex.
“Couples need to talk about the frequency of sex,” Dr. Anthony said in an e-mail. “Talking openly about sex and finding a middle ground with regard to frequency appears to be very important for overall sexual and relationship satisfaction.”
It might seem silly to do something like scheduling time for intimacy, but it’s important to open up the dialogue about your sex life to dedicate some time to just be with each other.”
5. Explore communication and the division of labour
Communication can be all important when it comes to impacting the relationship. I have a rule with my clients that they have to learn to talk about issues holding hands and maintaining eye contact. It helps. Understanding that if you can maintain your clam and learn to fight fair (here are the rules) then it goes a long way to settling the differences between couples.
Stop fighting about money, and quit talking about big issues by email or text.
Good communication takes effort, it’s hard, and it doesn’t always go smoothly. But when you let small things fester and don’t communicate, problems arise. Studies show that it’s usually money that causes this rift, but every relationship has its own set of issues that need to get worked through.
“Quit hashing out problems over text messages: Technology has a knack for disrupting relationships, but one study pinpointed that couples who deal with fights over text have a lower relationship quality. This means couples who used text messages to apologize or work out differences instead of having face to face conversations tended to report unhappiness. That said, positive texts like the occasional “I love you” are still great, just stop trying to work complicated things out over SMS.”
I hear about how exhausted the women who visit my office are feeling. Some of it is self-inflicted in that they want to entertain perfectly or have a Martha Stewart-esque Christmas. But many of them are working full time and then come home to another full-time job consisting of cooking, cleaning, shopping, child care, etc. Feeling overwhelmed and tired is one of the top reasons women are less interested in sex.
Contribute to the household chores: In a small-scale study, UCLA researchers tracked the lives of several relationships over the course of 4 years. Their conclusions? Couple who have a system to handle household chores and who evenly disperse those chores are a lot happier. So, when your significant other makes the suggestion that you do the dishes now and again, just do it.
Read more about our Relationship & Sex Therapy Service.